Hochevar’s Odd 2009

The esteemed Joe Posnanski wrote about the ultimate spring training story in a post artistically named, get this, The Ultimate Spring Training Story. Posnanski’s muse was Kyle Farnsworth and his attempt at rejuvenation by joining the rotation. Posnanski might be the greatest baseball writer alive not named Peter Gammons, but he might have missed the boat on this one, because Farnsworth’s teammate is probably more deserving of such a title.

Luke Hochevar is not what one could describe as irrelevant. Not yet, at least. His career has been a mixture of highs and lows. In 2005 the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted Hochevar (out of the University of Tennessee) with the 40th overall pick. Agent Scott Boras drove a hard bargain – so hard that Hochevar himself removed Boras as his agent at one point, signed another agent, agreed to a deal, then walked away and rehired Boras. He would not sign with the Dodgers and would go 39 picks earlier the next year, as the Kansas City Royals chose him first overall. That was over Tim Lincecum, Evan Longoria, and Clayton Kershaw, amongst others. Hochevar received a $3.5M signing bonus and joined the Royals’ minor league system weeks later.

Fast forward to present day and Hochevar has made 51 appearances in the majors with career statistics of: 284.2 IP, 183 SO, 97 BB, 36 HR, 4.54 xFIP, and a 4.67 tERA. That’s not quite as poor as his 5.88 or 13-26 win-loss record suggests, but it’s still not first overall pick material. Avoiding bust status isn’t the reason Hochevar is the ultimate spring story, though; oh no, it’s because someone needs to ask him how it felt to lay claim to probably the weirdest season in the Majors last year. Behold his monthly splits:

May: 11.2 IP, 2.31 K/9, 5.93 xFIP
June: 33.2 IP, 4.01 K/9, 4.69 xFIP
July: 31.1 IP, 9.77 K/9, 3.03 xFIP
August: 34.2 IP, 8.31 K/9, 4.03 xFIP
Sept/Oct: 31.2 IP, 6.25 K/9, 5.03 xFIP

Enough’s been written about how granular 40 innings is, but talk about some extreme data points. Hochevar went from striking out nobody to striking out mostly everyone. The natural reaction to such a polar shift is to look for the variables that changed. Here is his pitchfx usage chart, which seems to suggest he began using his curve more and his slider less. Which shouldn’t make him more effective, considering his curve was the worst pitch in his arsenal (per run values per 100 pitches) and his slider was the best.

So, like Dave Cameron did last week, allow me to question the Royals fans (and Dave Allen) out there: What changed in July that caused Hochevar to transform from Livan Hernandez to Tim Lincecum for a two month stint? Or, did nothing change and Hochevar’s data simply suffered from the same sample size issues that his May and June did?

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